Skip to content

Again, local news doesn’t provide adequate coverage of changes the Ottawa County Government are implementing

January 11, 2023

Last week we reported that much of the coverage of the political takeover in Ottawa County did not provide the public with much contextual reporting or background information on the group Ottawa Impact.

We made the point in that article, that none of the changes that elected officials who were vetted by Ottawa Impact made would have been a surprise, had the news media reported on the very clear far right ideological positions that these elected officials have taken, especially since they signed a contract with Ottawa Impact to do exactly what they are doing.

This week, the Ottawa County Commissioners voted to hire the Lansing-based law firm, the Kallman Legal Group. WXMI 17 reported on this, but the only background information they provided was that the Kallman Legal Group had filed lawsuits for people regarding COVID mandates, particularly in 2020.

MLive also reported on the Ottawa County Commission decision to hire the Kallman Legal Group, but also failed to provide much background information on their support for far right clients. MLive did mention some of the COVID shutdown clients they represented, along with a few businesses that wanted to deny services to people who identified as LGBTQ, but this information was near the end of the article. 

In October of 2022, there was a wedding venue on the westside of Grand Rapids that refused to rent to an LGBTQ couple and the lawyer that represented the business was David Kallman, with the Kallman Legal Group. In fact, this was not the only omission on the part of local news media, when it came to the Kallman Legal Group a law firm that has a history of representing and supporting far right organizations and issues throughout Michigan.

If the local news media were to scratch the surface a bit more on who David Kallman is, they would not have to look very hard to find out that he is one of the preferred lawyers for those in the far right camp. For instance, this is not the first time that Kallman has defended people or organizations that are anti-LGBTQ. 

David Kallman is also legal counsel for the Great Lakes Justice Center, which has a long history of defending religious groups that are anti-LGBTQ. GRIID wrote about the Great Lakes Justice Center in 2020, when they sued Gov. Whitmer for the Stay at Home orders. At that time we wrote: 

The Great Lakes Justice Center, which filed the lawsuit, has a long history of defending religious groups that actively discriminate against the LGBTQ community. A Lansing-based news source, City Pulse, reported on one example  and the ACLU has documented other cases against the Great Lakes Justice Center.  The Great Lakes Justice Center is part of group Salt & Light Global, which was founded by William Wagner. Salt & Light Global embraces a far right political and religious worldview. The “Resources” section on their homepage is a who’s who of far right religious groups, including the Federalist Society, Hillsdale College, Wall Builders, the Discovery Institute and the Acton Institute.

Kallman has represented numerous businesses that sought to challenge the Stay at Home orders that were put in place as a response to the COVID 19 pandemic, beginning in late March of 2020, cases that are sourced here.

In The Center Square article sourced in the previous paragraph, Kallman is standing with a business owner in front of a backdrop put up by the group Stand Up Michigan. Stand Up Michigan has been a group that came into being in response to the COVID 19 pandemic and believes that, “COVID was weaponized to rip away our constitutional liberties, close our businesses and fundamentally alter our psyches.” 

Some of the leadership of Stand Up Michigan host a podcast known as Live with Stand Up Michigan. Here is a sample of one of their shows where David Kallman was the guest. 

The last important piece of background information on the Kallman Legal Group, is the issue of abortion. Again, the local news media wouldn’t have to look far to find information showing that David Kallman was representing two Republican County Prosecutors in Michigan regarding the 1931 Abortion Ban law that the courts have said are not enforceable. An MLive article from August 16 states:

Oakland County Circuit Judge Jacob Cunningham quashed the subpoena and David Kallman, a Lansing lawyer representing prosecutors Jerard Jarzynka of Jackson County and Christopher Becker of Kent County, appealed to the higher court. Becker and Jarzynka previously said they would charge providers under the law, which makes procuring a miscarriage illegal except to save a mother’s life.

The fact that Kallman was representing Kent County Prosecutor Chris Becker, should have been relevant background information, especially since the issue of abortion has been front and center over the past year in Michigan. 

There was one news example that was pretty good, in terms of exploring deeper issue that the frustrations of some people in Ottawa County over the recent government changes. On January 10th, Michigan Radio did a pretty good story on the contract Ottawa County signed with the Kallman Legal group. The focus of that ration story centered around the connection between the Ottawa County Board Chair and the Kallman Legal Group. Now other news outlets did make this an issue, but they only provided comments from both sides. 

The Michigan Radio story actually investigated the connection between the Kallman Legal Group and the Ottawa Impact members. Michigan Radio found out that a Kallman Legal Group relative had raised money for the Political Action Committee that Ottawa Impact was running.

One of the main functions of news agencies is to report on people who have financial and political power, along with the decisions they make. When the local news fails to do that and only provides us with superficial coverage, not only is the democratic process weakened, but real harm is being done, most often to the most marginalized people in our communities. Good journalism can counteract that.

The uses and abuses of the Legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in Grand Rapids

January 10, 2023

There were plenty of people who despised Dr. King while he was alive, both poor white people and those with political and economic power.

Once Dr. King’s birthday became a US holiday in 1983, those with economic and political power began to figure out ways to abuse and misuse his legacy. Even those on the far right have misused Dr. King, particularly a quote from his 1963 speech in Washington, in what is referred to as his, “I Have a Dream” speech. One example of how Dr. King’s words from his 1963 speech have been abused is from a document by the group Ottawa Impact. 

Last week, we wrote about how the commercial news media has failed us when it came to investigating the group Ottawa Impact and their ideological statements that were known since March of 2022. In their Position Statement when talking about “Diversity/Critical Race Theory”, the groups writes:

We agree with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream that people “should not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” 

This sentence by Dr. King is not only taken out of context, it is used to justify a White Supremacist ideology, an ideology that has real world consequences.

However, far right ideologues are not the only ones to misuses or abuse the legacy of Dr. King. Liberal politicians will misuse the legacy of Dr King, making speeches about the great Civil Rights leader, while at the very same time justifying the largest US Military Budget in US history (President Biden), or local politicians who will justify increased police budgets or their sanctioning of the GRPD to target local activists who are part of the Black Freedom Struggle, just as Dr. King was. 

There are also non-profit organizations who will misuse and abuse the legacy of Dr. King. For example, The Urban League of West Michigan, will be hosting its 23rd Annual Corporate Breakfast on Monday for MLK Day 2023. Business leaders will be invited to participate in the Corporate Breakfast, with networking at 7am, followed by a 7:30am breakfast. The Urban League Corporate breakfast has the following description: 

Every year our Breakfast is an opportunity to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy of service and be inspired to live out his dream today in our homes, the community and throughout the world.  It is also a time to celebrate and honor trailblazing leaders in business and throughout the community who personify the Urban League’s mission of a more just, peaceful, equitable and thriving Grand Rapids. 

Now, I am not picking on the Urban League for providing relief to families around housing needs or other social services. This kind of work is always important to minimize the harm being done to families within a White Supremacist, Capitalist system. However, Dr. King was not content with just doing charity work or social service work. The Civil Rights leader wanted to confront the very system(s) that perpetuated racism and poverty. 

In Dr. King’s famous 1967 Beyond Vietnam speech, he states:

A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life’s roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life’s highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring. A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.

In concrete terms, Dr. King was all about action, particularly Direct Action to confront systems of power and oppression. When he was organizing in Chicago in 1966, specifically around housing issues, he and a few hundred activists shit down the Dan Ryan expressway as a tactic to get City officials and landlords to meet their demands. Of course, beginning in 1967, Dr. King’s team of organizers began working on the Poor People’s Campaign, which would take place in 1968, with hundreds of thousands of people setting up a tent city in Washington. DC and demanding things like housing, a livable wage and food security, in what King referred to as an Economic Bill of Rights.

Therefore, if the Urban League of West Michigan wanted to honor the legacy of Dr. King, they might consider inviting the families that benefit from their social services to a breakfast for MLK day, instead of Corporate leaders. However, inviting people who are victimized by White Supremacist Capitalism isn’t enough. Instead, inviting them to a breakfast provides an opportunity for people to be organized to make demands and, in the words of Dr. King, dismantle the “edifice that produced beggars.” This strategy, would be a true revolution of values, and it would be a way to truly honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Federal Funding going to projects in Grand Rapids is a drop in the bucket compared to the amount of money taken from Grand Rapidians to finance the US Military

January 9, 2023

On Saturday, MLive posted the following story, See which Grand Rapids-area projects got $17.3M in congressional earmarks.

The article, which essentially provides a list of the projects that will receive funding from the federal spending bill. Some of the projects, like the one with the United Methodist Community House are important for the community, but several of the others listed are questionable in terms of who they really benefit.

However, the reason why I wanted to talk about the MLive article, was not so much about what the article said, but what it didn’t say.

The MLive article did mention that the $17.3 million for projects in Grand Rapids was part of the, “$1.7 trillion spending bill signed by President Joe Biden last month.” The massive spending bill for fiscal year 2023, known on Capitol Hill as an omnibus, provides $772.5 billion for non-defense, domestic programs and $858 billion in defense funding. It includes roughly $45 billion in emergency assistance to Ukraine and NATO allies and roughly $40 billion to respond to natural disasters like hurricanes, wildfires and flooding. 

Therefore, the first major omission in the MLive article, is the fact that more than half of the $1.7 trillion spending bill goes to the US Military, which will receive $858 Billion. 

At the end of the article, it mentions that information about the funding for the Grand Rapids projects came from Senator Debbie Stabenow. Senator Stabenow has consistently voted for the US Military portion of the country’s annual budget, which is always more than non-military related budget items. While Senator Stabenow’s office provided MLive with information on which projects in Grand Rapids were receiving federal dollars, it is deeply problematic that MLive fails to mention that Senator Stabenow also signed off on more than 50% of the spending bill would go to the US Military, which is the second major omission.

A third major omission in this MLive article is the fact that they failed to report that more federal tax dollars leave Grand Rapids than what comes back. In this $1.7 trillion spending bill, just $17.3 Million is earmarked for Grand Rapids. According to the National Priorities Project, in 2021, Michigan taxpayers paid out $19.35 Billion for the US Military alone, with $370.66 Million coming from Grand Rapids and going to the US Military. It seems to me that when Grand Rapids taxpayers had $370.66 Million of their tax dollars go to militarism, but only getting $17.3 million in federally funded projects, that is deeply unjust and not equitable at all.

The last major omission in the MLive article is all about missing out on possibilities. If the MLive reported had decided to look at the bigger picture of the federal spending bill and fleshed out for MLive readers how little money comes back to Grand Rapids and how much money goes towards the US Military, imagine the possibilities for Grand Rapidians. 

People who constantly talk about funding disparities in Grand Rapids would have been great resources for the MLive reporter to further discuss funding priorities. Grassroots organizers in the Black community could have talked about how federal spending ultimately perpetuates structural racism, housing advocated could have talked about how federal funding could provide enough money to end the affordable housing crisis, and climate activists could have talked about using federal funding for mass transit and more renewable energy options. We desperate need this kind of journalism, a journalism that stretches our imagination and challenges official narratives. 

Patrick Lyoya was one of 1,181 civilians that were killed by cops in the US in 2022

January 8, 2023

According to the site Mapping Police Violence, 2022 saw the highest number of people killed by the police in the US since this data has been collected.

In Grand Rapids, Michigan, 26 year old Patrick Lyoya was shot in the back of the head by a Grand Rapids cop, after Lyoya had been stopped for having expired tags on his license plate. The police murder of Patrick Lyoya shocked the Grand Rapids community, even though activists had been predicting this for years and calling for the defunding of the GRPD since June of 2020. 

Christopher Schurr, the cop who shot Lyoya in the back of the head, was fired from the GRPD and charged with second degree murder a few months after the killing. According to Mapping Police Violence, since 2013, in 98.1% of cases where a cop killed a civilian, a police officer was NOT charged with a crime. Considering how much of a public outcry has happened over the Patrick Lyoya case, where the ex-cop was charged, imagine how most of the other communities in the country have felt when no cops were charged with a crime after they killed someone.

Then there is the issue of police killings that are not reported. As researchers showed in a study published in The Lancet in 2021, about half of killings by law enforcement agents go unreported, so the true number of people killed by the police last year may be double the figure reported by Mapping Police Violence. Double the number of people killed by police in 2020, would put it just under 2400.

The high rate of police killings of civilians is not an aberration, it is systemic. Samuel Sinyangwe, a data scientist and policy analyst who founded Mapping Police Violence, recently said, “These are routine police encounters that escalate to a killing. What’s clear is that it’s continuing to get worse, and that it’s deeply systemic.”

The data on police killings of civilians for 2022 is certainly alarming in and of itself. However, considering that there were millions of people globally who took to the streets and engaged in open rebellion in 2020 after the police murder of George Floyd, one would have thought that police departments would have reduced the number of times they killed people. This has not been the case, for two main reasons. 

First, there is a lack of real accountability of police departments, due in part to how powerful their unions are. The second reason has to do with the fact that there has been a bi-partisan effort to increase the amount of police funding across the country since the 2020 uprising. This increase in funding for police was made painfully clear by President Biden when he unveiled his “Safer America Plan,” which would provide $37 billion in funding for policing and a commitment to add an additional 100,000 more cops across the nation. With the lack of real accountability and consequences for cops who kill people, along with the commitment to increase funding for cops coming from the highest office, we should expect the number of people killed by cops to stay at a high level or possibly even increase.

Boycott Campaign targets downtown businesses over GR Chamber of Commerce proposed ordinance to criminal the unhoused

January 6, 2023

In early December, when we began reporting on the Grand Rapids Chamber of Commerce’s proposed ordinance, which they sent in a letter to the City Commission on January 6th. You can read the proposed ordinance from the GR Chamber of Commerce here.

One week later, 120 business people, many of who are members of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, sent another letter to the Grand Rapids City Commission, which they all signed. You can read that letter, with all 120 signatures at this link.

Shortly after the GR Chamber announced their proposed ordinance, the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union, along with a coalition of groups and individuals called for a boycott of all downtown businesses until the GR Chamber retracts their proposed ordinance and makes a public apology for proposing a policy that would criminalize the unhoused. On December 12, about 25 activists went to the GR Chamber’s downtown office to protest the ordinance proposal and to make their demands known. The GR Chamber of Commerce responded by calling the GRPD.

The following week activists went to make similar demands at Mel Trotter Ministries, which was one of the signatories to the letter that endorsed the GR Chamber’s ordinance proposal. At the same time, this group, working through the Grand Rapids Area Tenant union, created an electronic letter campaign, which as of today generated nearly 13,000 letters to Grand Rapids City officials and the GR Chamber of Commerce.

This boycott campaign also has created a toolkit of sorts, providing people with a list of downtown Grand Rapids business to boycott, along with the idea that people can go to reviews on Google, Yelp, Facebook, & Trip Advisor and tell others why we cannot in good conscience patronize them. All of this information is on the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union Facebook page.

Just yesterday, so people involved in the boycott made a short video, using caution tape, to demonstrate how the ordinance would criminal the unhoused and severely limit their ability to even have a presence in downtown Grand Rapids. 

Lastly, as with all boycott, in order for them to be effective, the campaign will need to grow and get more people involved in doing the necessary work to inform the public as well as to resist the repressive ordinance proposal from the GR Chamber of Commerce. If you want to be involved in the campaign, you can leave the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union a message on their Facebook page or you can send them an e-mail 

Acton Institute writer, who has no experience with tenants, landlords or property management companies believes that Christian landlords would be the best kind of landlords

January 5, 2023

Rachel Ferguson, a professor and contributing writer for the Grand Rapids Far Right Think Tank, the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, believes that Christian Landlords would make the best kind of landlords.

Her article from January 4th, Why Christians Should Be (the Best) Landlords, is based upon a social media argument she had with Kevin Nye, who is a Housing Director at an organization addressing youth homelessness in Minnesota.

In the typically condescending language that Acton writers engage in, Rachel Ferguson demonstrates her own by writing: 

I have a real soft spot for people who put their money where their mouth is and do the hard work of helping people whose issues can be incredibly hard to face. At the same time, sincerity and effort don’t make up for ignorance. In fact, as we’ve seen in cases like Prohibition, sincere, God-fearing, hardworking people who believe in radical action for the marginalized can create outcomes that are far, far worse than if they’d done nothing at all. So, with real respect to Mr. Nye for his personal intervention in the lives of the homeless, we’ve got to review what’s wrong with his views on landlords, rent, and eviction—not to “own the libs” but for the sake of the homeless themselves.

Now, it is important to note that Professor Ferguson has no direct experience with the issues surrounding tenants, tenant rights, eviction, predatory landlords and property management companies. Her opinion and her knowledge background is in the area of her own theological interpretation of Christianity and her deep commitment to free market Capitalism.

I’m not really interested in for or against arguments about whether or not Christians should be landlords or would be the best landlords, but the arguments that Professor Ferguson uses are weak and rather misleading. This was the case the last time an Acton writer addresses tenant evictions in an article from September of 2021. Another Acton writer, Noah Gould, in an article entitled, Banning evictions poses harm for low-income renters, argues that the eviction ban was bad because it was some liberal scheme. Gould cites President Biden’s decision to extend the eviction moratorium, but fails to mention that it began under President Trump, because the CDC decided it was cruel and inhuman to evict people in the middle of a pandemic.

I agree, that evicting renters in the middle of a pandemic is a brutally cruel practice. The Acton writer in the 2021 article opposing a moratorium on evictions also fails to mentions that lots of property management companies and landlords received federal funding in the form of PPP loans, in which most did not have to pay it back. One Property Management Company that the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union is currently dealing with is KMG Prestige. KMG Prestige owns numerous rental properties in this area and in other communities. Interestingly enough, KMG Prestige applied for a PPP loan during the COVID pandemic and was given $7,845,514, which was forgiven. So, the idea that landlords weren’t making any money during the pandemic, is simply false. 

Radical Hospitality

As a counter to the narrative from the Acton Institute about tenant evictions and Christian landlords, I think it is important to talk about a long practiced tradition within religious and non-religious traditions, where Radical Hospitality is practiced. 

When I was younger and studying to be a Catholic Priest, I learned about Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker Movement. Day, who was a young adult during the Great Depression, co-founded the first Catholic Worker houses with Peter Maurin. Catholic Worker Houses were houses of hospitality, that provided a safe place for people to sleep, meals and a case by case time frame for people to get back on their feet economically to get their own apartment of house. In addition, Catholic Worker houses practices simple living and were actively involved in opposing US involvement in war and the amount of money the US government spent on the annual military budget. The Catholic Worker Movement argued that money that is being spent on militarism should be spent on housing and other basic necessities for the millions who are housing insecure. 

In Grand Rapids, the first Catholic Worker Houses began in the 1970s. The first was the Grimke House, named after the abolitionist Grimke sisters. Then in 1984, I was part of creating a place called the Koinonia House, which was modeled on the Catholic Worker. We provided hospitality to over 300 individuals and families during a 20 year period. Koinonia house was our home and we treated those who were housing insecure as our guests for however long they needed. We also opposed war, US military intervention and US military spending. In the summer of 1990, many of us were involved in a Homes Not Bombs campaign (pictured here), where we built shanties in front of the US Federal Building in Downtown Grand Rapids to make a point about the disparities in spending on weapons of mass death versus spending on housing for people in our communities. We even created fact sheets to distribute to people, showing the huge disparity between money for bombs as opposed to money for housing. (See below)

For Acton Institute writers, like Rachel Ferguson, who want to spend their energy arguing that Christians make the best landlords, we think it is more effective and more important to talk about housing justice and why it is important to think about and create housing justice outside of the For Profit framework.

What the commercial news media isn’t telling us about the group behind the firing of several Ottawa County officials

January 4, 2023

On Tuesday, the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners fired the County Administrator and replaced him with John Gibbs, a candidate who ran for the 3rd Congressional District in last years election, but was defeated by Hillary Scholten. 

This news, which has been reported by most of the West Michigan commercial news media, is presented as shocking news. And while I agree that the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners decision was abrupt, none of what happened is in any way shocking or a surprise. Look, within the past 2 years, we have seen millions of people denying the election results from the 2020 Presidential Election. In January of 2021, there was an attempted insurrection at the nation’s capitol, where only a few people have suffered any real consequences for their actions. In the 2022 Elections, there were hundreds of candidates running for local, state and federal positions, all of which were election deniers, with many of them winning their races. (Check out this new resource by the Center for Media & Democracy, Insurrection Exposed.)

With this recent history, we should not be shocked or surprised that people in Ottawa County embrace the same ideological positions that those who participated in the failed insurrection. What I find most instructive about the local news coverage, especially the articles coming from MLive (there have been 3 articles, listed below), which mentioned the group Ottawa Impact, is that none of the articles or the other coverage has bother to link to or explore their ideological and political beliefs. The rest of this article will explore their political ideology. 

The Ottawa Impact group is a 501c4 group, which means they can endorse candidates, plus they have their own Political Action Committee. Their PAC is registered with the State of Michigan, but they have yet to file any fundraising data from 2022, according to the Michigan Secretary of State.

Their mission statement reads:

We are committed to defending the constitutionally protected rights of parents to make health and education decisions for their own children. We desire to preserve and pass on the blessings and heritage of Ottawa County to future generations.

We recognize our nation’s Judeo-Christian heritage and celebrate America as an exceptional nation blessed by God. We oppose indoctrination of our county’s youth and the politicization of public schools.

We believe civic engagement, ground up, is critical to preserve a healthy, moral society. We seek to educate, encourage, and support local leaders who fight to preserve Ottawa’s values and work to eliminate policies which oppose them.

The last sentence makes clear that the firing of the of the current Ottawa County Administrator, shows exactly what they will do when anyone opposes them. 

The Ottawa Impact group has a contract for those running for County Commission and for the Ottawa County School Board. The contract for the County Commission is 8 pages  and the one for the School Board is 9 pages. People should read them and not just dismiss them as lunacy, since these contracts will do very real forms of harm to people. 

These documents were created in March of 2022, and their policy agendas are very clear. For example, the fact that the Ottawa County Board of Commissioners announced that they were doing away with the Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office is because they say very clearly in the contract, “I will support removing Ottawa County from the Government Alliance on Race and Equity (“GARE”) membership, and discontinuing Ottawa County’s promotion of divisive teachings aligned with Critical Race Theory such as; racial equity, privilege vs oppression based on skin color, intersectionality, implicit bias, systemic racism, and revisionist history.

In addition, the contract for Ottawa County Commissioners running as Ottawa Impact candidates also must be committed to removing any and all Planned Parenthood-aligned resources, view civil liberties as rights the government takes away – such as during COVID restrictions – but not civil liberties as in right for BIPOC, queer, immigrants or other marginalized groups, and parental rights, specifically as it relates to education curriculum.

With the candidates who run for Ottawa County School Board, they must commit to opposing curriculum that is seen as applying Critical Race Theory, protect religious freedom, promote teaching “America’s True History”, oppose controversial materials, which they define as “containing controversial sexuality and racial teachings.” This contract also includes a commitment to support censorship of materials, like library books, plus they must take a hard anti-trans stance, which denies trans students from using bathrooms that are gender specific. The anti-trans commitment is framed as protecting women and children.  

Under the Documents section of the Ottawa Impact page there are numerous links, with the first being one that is used to vet candidates. This document has some of the same language as the other contracts, but also includes language about protecting the 1st and 2nd Amendments, being Pro-Life, in support of the freedom of businesses, churches and individuals to not be subjected to what they call Health Freedom, which is basically to oppose any further government restrictions like what has happened under COVID. Then there is language under law and order stating that candidates must oppose defunding of the police and must support an America First ideology, of closed borders, undocumented immigrants, “as well as refugee influx from areas/countries hostile to America.” Lastly, candidates must oppose labor unions of any kind. Some of the other documents under this section, have more details on the contract commitments that candidates must take. 

There is also a News section on the website banner, which has only about a dozen since this group was founded. Speaking of founders, Ottawa Impact was founded by Joe Moss and Sylvia Rhodea, which you can follow on Facebook. Ottawa Impact also has a Facebook page. 

None of this information was presented by the local commercial news, which it seems to me is vitally important if we are to understand what Ottawa Impact stands for, what they believe and how to organize to reduce the harm they clearly want to do.

Business Press interview with Whitmer/Gilchrist reads like Business as usual when it comes to politics in Michigan

January 3, 2023

Just before the holiday break, MiBiz did an interview with Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer and Lt. Governor Garlin Gilchrist about their party’s plans in the New Year, no that the democrats control the Governor’s office and the State Legislature. This Democratic control of Michigan politics is the first time that the Democrats have had this kind of control in 40 years, yet the headline read, ‘WE’RE PRAGMATISTS’: Whitmer, Gilchrist outline 2023 policy goals.

We thought this would be a good opportunity to dissect the policy agenda of the Democrats for at least the next two years, while they have control of the State. We are going to go through this interview, question by question, to critique the policy vision, along with the language and framing used by both Whitmer and Gilchrist.

MIBiz – What are your top policy priorities heading into 2023?

Whitmer: We’re really excited about the opportunity to continue the work that we got started in the first term. We are working very closely with Speaker-elect Joe Tate and Senate Majority Leader-elect Winnie Brinks. I think some of the first things we want to accomplish is help people keep more money in their pockets. Whether it’s a working family tax credit or repealing the retirement pension tax, these are ways we could help people who are struggling right now with the high cost of everything. 

GRIID – In response to the question about top policy priorities, Whitmer only lists two specific policies, the family tax credit or repealing the retirement pension tax. Both of these would certainly be a good start to keeping money money into the pockets of working class people/families, but it doesn’t address the massive wealth gap that exists in Michigan. There is no discussion about raising the minimum wage to a level that would allow people to afford the basic necessities, such as housing, health care, transportation, groceries, etc. On January 1st, 2023, Michigan’s minimum wage went from $9.87 to $10.10, which is only a 23 cent increase. $10.10 an hour is a poverty wage and is unacceptable for individuals and those raising a family.

MiBiz – As Democrats secured a trifecta in state government, some have suggested that the party should avoid veering too far left on policies to retain its majorities. What’s your view on that analysis?

Whitmer: We’re pragmatists. We’re Michiganders through and through, we just want to get things done that are going to make a difference in people’s lives right now. We’ve got a slim, two-seat majority in the House and Senate. We will continue to make a seat at the table for the minority leaders because we share constituencies and the people of Michigan deserve a governor and a lieutenant governor who stay focused on solving problems. We are here to serve and to govern for all people of Michigan.

Gilchrist: I think the results of this election are reflective of the support for the approaches we have taken. The governor and I have always put solutions ahead of everything because we know that’s what the people of Michigan need to have an improved quality of life. So this is certainly the way we’re going to continue to approach this. And I think the legislators will have that same posture.

GRIID – With this second question, the MiBiz reporter is setting up both Whitmer and Gilchrist, even baiting them to see if they will veer going “too far left.” Whitmer’s response is instructive. First, she says, “We’re pragmatists.” This statement speaks volumes and is followed up by not speaking to what kind of policies they will push for, but that they want to work with the GOP and solve problems. It’s a tepid response that doesn’t suggest that people who are being exploited, those experiencing structural racism, those demanding right and those wanting to live in a world that run by money and power should not hope that much will change with the Democratic majority. The response from Gilchrist isn’t much better, where he uses vague language and completely avoids concrete policy proposals. 

MiBiz – Do you support repealing Michigan’s right to work law? And what’s your response to business advocates who say doing so would send a bad message to companies considering investing here?

Whitmer: I can tell you this: I was in the Legislature when the Republicans changed the law. No one’s going to be surprised to know what my position is on this issue. I can also tell you this: We have seen tough times here in Michigan and right now one of the greatest strengths we have is our mobility sector. It’s growing. We’ve added jobs and it’s because of a great partnership with the U.A.W. and General Motors, Ford and Stellantis. I think there were a lot of promises made 10 years ago when the law changed, a lot of threats were made. Very little of it came to fruition. We’re going to stay focused on building a future economy where all people can have a say in the terms of their employment and all businesses can thrive. It’s not one or the other, it’s got to be both.

GRIID – Again, Whitmer doesn’t really answer the question with an emphatic, “yes, we will repeal the Right to Work law.” Instead, Whitmer talks about partner ships with the auto industry and the UAW, but then ends her comments by saying she wants all businesses to thrive. Repealing Right to Work would send an important message, particularly a message to working class people, so why does the Governor not just say she will repeal it?

MiBiz – While campaigning this election season, what were you both hearing as the top concerns or needs of business owners?

Whitmer: Businesses everywhere, not just Michigan but across the country, are looking for employees. Growing our population and making sure people know: If you want to live a high quality of life with a low cost of living, Michigan’s the place to move to or build your business in. There are a lot of pieces that go into making Michigan competitive, but we’ve seen record small business growth, which tells me the entrepreneurial spirit is strong.

Gilchrist: First of all, (business owners) care a lot about the people working on their teams. So (we heard about) things like making sure there is adequate housing available for people so they could live and work close to one another. Making sure they have child care and people could trust where their kids were and they were safe and learning so they could be productive while working. These are things that we prioritized for the last four years because we heard business owners talk about these issues and how important they were for their quality of life. We want to build on the progress we’ve made in those areas.

GRIID – This question is expected, since MiBiz is a news source with a primary readership being business owners. When Governor Whitmer makes the statement, “f you want to live a high quality of life with a low cost of living, Michigan’s the place to move to or build your business in.” All I could think when I read this statement was – 1) Michigan does not have a low cost of living, not for hundreds of thousands of families that are living in poverty. Hell, even that State of Michigan acknowledges that, “1.5 million Michiganders struggle to afford the basic necessities of housing, child care, food, technology, health care and transportation.” The response from Gilchrist is even more outlandish, when he says, “business owners care a lot about the people working on their teams.” Does he actually believe this to be true, and if so, what evidence does he have to support it? 

MiBiz – What do you see as the best strategy for getting to the heart of the housing issue, which is creating more units?

Gilchrist: Our first ever statewide housing plan showed we need to have housing that works in every market: Housing for workforce or seasonal employees, single-family, multifamily, rehabbing, new construction. And that plan is pretty comprehensive in terms of how it addresses all of those things. As we work, we’ll also see a lot of new interest in smaller developers to meet the needs of local communities. An affordable, safe place to live is the starting point for people’s participation in the economy and civic life.  

GRIID – The last sentence from Gilchrist is somewhat agreeable, but he avoids talking about or at least directing people to what the actual statewide housing plan is, which you can find here. 

MiBiz – Can you discuss this administration’s focus on outdoor recreation as an economic engine, and your outlook for the industry’s growth potential?

Whitmer: Michigan is so unique. We have 20 percent of the world’s freshwater in and around our borders. We have four seasons and some phenomenal outfitters like Carhartt and Stormy Kromer, for instance. This is a national strength of ours that I don’t know we’ve ever really harnessed as well as we could. We put a lot of emphasis on it. We’ve made a record investment in our state parks, and I think this is really an opportunity for us. This is a way that we can build an industry, grow it here in Michigan, and capitalize on all the national strengths we have as a state.

GRIID – Why do things like outdoor recreation have to be framed in terms of generating profits? Why can’t we support families living in Michigan, by paying them a livable wage, so they actually have the time and resources to enjoy camping, hiking or other outdoor activities? Why the hell does the Governor even highlight companies like Carhartt and Stormy Kromer? Stop commodifying nature!

MiBiz – You also released a statewide climate action plan this year that calls for net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. Do you anticipate legislative efforts to codify that through a stronger renewable energy standard or a vehicle emissions standard?

Whitmer: We know setting goals is one thing, but achieving them is another. We have to have industry really committed to the same goals we’ve laid out. We’re making progress. I think with this new makeup in the Legislature there will be an opportunity to do even more to codify a lot of pieces of the climate plan, and that’s something I’m very eager to get started.

GRIID – Achieving Climate Justice should be a high priority, but the Governor’s language is vague enough to avoid concrete policy stances. Hell, Enbridge is still operating Line 5, despite the promise from Governor Whitmer to shut it down. How can Michigan achieve Climate Justice when Climate fanatics like Enbridge are allowed to continue to put our future at risk? 

MiBiz – What can you say about the state’s pipeline of additional large battery manufacturing projects?

Whitmer: We’ve made some really amazing announcements in just this last year. And we worked across the aisle to sharpen our economic development tools. We moved fast, we were bipartisan, and we got it done. If we don’t win this decade, we could get left behind for a generation. We can’t just assume that because General Motors has a strong history in Michigan that they’re always going to be here. We had to compete, and we won — $7 billion investments in batteries in Lake Orion and Lansing. This has huge implications across our economy. We’ve got to put our foot on the accelerator. We’ve landed a lot of battery plants and EV production, but we can’t rest on our laurels. We’ve got to stay at it. 

GRIID – I know we are all supposed to be excited about the announcement in early 2022, that Michigan will begin major EV auto production, but this is NOT a sustainable solution, which we wrote about last year.

The week after the 2022 Elections, GRIID wrote a 3 part series, What Kind of Change Do We really want to see in Michigan. In that 3 part series we suggested policies changes that would primarily benefit working class people, BIPOC communities and others who are oppressed under the current business as usual policy framework for Michigan. The MiBiz interview with Whitmer and Gilchrist doesn’t suggest any real deviation from business as usual, which is why I believe that social movements will have to pressure the State government if they want to win their demands. Just ask yourself, if Michigan politicians really wanted to work for the people, would they first ask real people to prioritize what kinds of policy they want to see and then invite them to be part of a participatory budgeting process to have a real say in how their tax dollars are spent?

GRIID Year in Review Part V – Documenting the work of Social Movements in Grand Rapids

January 2, 2023

In Part I of our Year in Review for 2022, we looked at how the local news media (mis)reported on critical issues in Grand Rapids. In Part II, we looked back at what the Far Right in West Michigan was doing over the past year. With Part III, we looked back at the activity of the Grand Rapids Power Structure, how they expanded their wealth, how they influenced electoral outcome and how they colluded with local government. In Part IV, we looked back at the most reported issue in Grand Rapids for 2022, the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya. In today’s post, Part V, we want to look back at our documentation of social movements in Grand Rapids.

Some social movements continued to do the important work of fighting for justice and collective liberation. However, 2022 was an election year, so social movement work always struggles, since too many people divert money and time to voting. There were movements that have been around for several years, such as the immigrant justice movement, which is best reflected in the work of Movimiento Cosecha, the housing justice movement, lots of Mutual Aid work, the Defund the GRPD effort and the Justice4Patrick movement, which was born out of the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya on April 4, 2022.

Immigrant Justice

Movimiento Cosecha continued to organize around Driver’s Licenses for All, in Grand Rapids and across the state. The undocumented immigrant movements continued to do education around the importance of driver’s licenses, along with building capacity for the campaign, which meant working with immigrants and allies across the state. Much of this organizing is through meetings, zoom calls and preparation for actions, which most of us never see.

In late April of 2022, we wrote about how Movimiento Cosecha has been organizing May Day actions for the previous 5 years, with an invitation to participate in the 2022 May Day action. One thing that happened this past May, was that they were finally able to shut down US 131 for nearly 30 minutes, backing up traffic, getting commercial news media coverage and documenting the action on social media, always with the theme, “We will stop disrupting your lives when you stop disrupting our lives.”

Another major action was a 3 day encampment in Lansing, where Movimiento Cosecha continued to pressure lawmakers to hold a public hearing on Driver’s Licenses, then get it passed, so that undocumented immigrants can go to work and raise their families in safety, without fear that being stopped by local police will result in them being detained or deported. We participated in the first two days of the encampment, waiting about Day 1 and Day 2. Lastly, Movimiento Cosecha organized an action at the home of the GOP speaker of the House, Rep. Wentworth, who had cancelled the public hearing on Driver’s Licenses back in 2021, which put the lives of undocumented immigrants at risk by delaying a public hearing, which will likely not be held until sometime in 2023.

Union organizing

Labor organizing across the US surged in 2022, at places like Amazon and Starbucks. Grand Rapids Starbuck workers began an organizing campaign in late Spring of 2022, which we wrote about, also noting that Starbucks workers had attempted to organized way back in 2008/2009. 

The Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union also continued to provide support for tenants, which often translated into being involved in pressure campaigns against landlords and property management companies, which we wrote about in September. Towards the end of the year, the Grand Rapids Area Chamber of Commerce proposed an ordinance that would essentially criminalize the unhoused. The GR Tenant Union, along with a coalition of groups and individuals, rallied to take action, first at the GR Chamber’s headquarters in downtown Grand Rapids and again at Mel Trotter Ministries, which has publicly supported the Chamber’s proposed ordinance. This campaign has also called for a boycott of businesses in the downtown area, which often includes business in other parts of the city, since several of the downtown business own multiple entities across the city. For ways to become involved in the boycott campaign, go to the Grand Rapids Area Tenant Union FB page.

Justice4Patrick Movement

The other major social movement that was active also included a coalition of groups, such as Defund the GRPD, Together We Are Safe, the Grand Rapids Area Mutual Aid Network, GR Rapid Response to ICE and people who were previously affiliated with Justice for Black Lives. This coalition was the result of the GRPD murdering Patrick Lyoya, a Black Congolese man, on April 4th in Grand Rapids. 

A few days after Lyoya was murdered by the GRPD, we wrote about the numerous ways that people could support Patrick’s family and take action to demand justice.

There were marches that were organized starting from the site where Patrick was murdered, but most of the marches were in downtown Grand Rapids and many of those marches ended up at City Hall, where the community could pressure City officials to meet their demands. Many of the City Commission meetings saw dozens of people speaking during the public comments period, often demonstrating anger at what had happened and how the City was not taking this murder seriously. The public was so angered that they often used what City officials referred to as “profanity,” plus they chanted and shouted during meetings, often resulting in City officials shutting down the meeting.

In addition, as was the case in the previous two years, certain activists were targeted by the GRPD, often being arrested as they were leaving the building and going to their cars or at times after they had left in cars and were pulled over by the GRPD, then arrested. The GRPD, with City official approval, repeatedly took this kind of action, no doubt as an attempt to instill fear in those who were speaking out about the GRPD murder of Patrick Lyoya. 

In late May, there were actions taken at the homes of several Grand Rapids City officials, which involved primarily graffiti. The local news media demonstrated once again a very clear bias in support of local government, completely misrepresenting grassroots organizing.

In June, the Kent County Prosecutor finally charged, Christopher Schurr, the ex-GRPD cop who shot Patrick Lyoya in the back of the head, with second degree murder. GRIID wrote a piece documenting how those in power responded to the charges.

As is always the case with the judicial process, there were delays involved in moving forward against Christopher Schurr, with one court hearing in September and another one in October, where activists were present to monitor the case, along with holding protests outside. The trial for the ex-cop who killed Patrick Lyoya is expected to begin in March of 2023. 

There were certainly other forms of important organizing being done, mostly behind the scenes, but the above movements were the most active in 2022. 

For me, the New Year is always about collective liberation: My experience with the Zapatistas in Mexico

December 31, 2022

During four different trips to Mexico, I had the opportunity to do accompaniment work with the Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional (EZLN), also known as the Zapatistas. 

The EZLN began organizing in response to Neo-Liberal Globalization in the early 1990s, which was disproportionately impacting Indigenous communities in Mexico. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a trade agreement made between the governments of Canada, Mexico and the USA, would escalate the Neo-Liberal war against Indigenous communities, so the Zapatistas made the day that NAFTA went into affect – January 1st, 1994 – the day they went public with their uprising. 

The Zapatista uprising is documented well in John Ross’s book, Rebellion from the Roots: Indian Uprising in Chiapas. Ross and other chroniclers of the EZLN uprising all recount how the Zapatistas targeted the colonial city of San Cristobal. They particularly targeted the government buildings and destroyed many government documents, specifically land title documents, which the EZLN believed were bogus documents because they legalize the theft of Indigenous land. San Cristobal was also a popular tourist destination, so there were numerous European and US tourists in San Cristobal on New Year’s eve that day. The EZLN uprising disrupted the tourists’ plans and it is said that at one point some of the tourists who were looking down onto the central park from their hotels were complaining about the EZLN rebellion. In response, Sub Commandente Marcos replied, “Sorry for the inconvenience, but this is a revolution.”

The first time I did accompaniment in one of the Zapatista communities was in 1997, the in community of La Realidad. Our work was two-fold. We were to have a presence to deter Mexican military violence against the Indigenous communities, and we were there to document what the Mexican military was doing, which included collecting data on the number of soldiers, weapons, communications systems and how often US supplied army helicopter flew above the community. 

I went to Chiapas the following year, also to do accompaniment work, this time in the community known as Oventic. I returned to Oventic again in 2000 and 2005, always doing accompaniment work and always at the invitation of the EZLN. You can read about my time in Chiapas, Mexico and Guatemala, in the book, Sembramos, Comemos, Sembramos: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time

The 6 minute video here is an excerpt from my documentary called, Reversing the Missionary Position: Learning Solidarity on Mayan Time.